I seem to frequently hear the term “deep web” being used on Youtube, and various news sites and blogs, lately.
For better or worse, it’s become the catch-all term for hidden websites, but I’d like to help clear up the confusion.
Technically, the term “deep web” just means anything that isn’t indexed by major search engines, like Google, Bing, and Yahoo!
Google, for example, finds web pages via links and XML sitemaps that communicate to the search engine that you want your site to be found in results. If a site isn’t set up that way, however, it won’t show up in search results. Thus, that page is technically in the “deep web.”
Even the confidential details of certain sites are considered part of the deep web. If, for example, you log into your bank account with a username, password, and sitekey, then the part of the site that’s meant only for you to see is the “deep web.”
The “dark web” is, technically, what all the news stories and scary videos are referring to. The dark web is comprised of sites that are built on top of “darknets,” networks which require special software or configurations to access.
That being said, I know slang terms change over time, and so if people want to call it the deep web, that’s fine too.
One of the most popular ways of accessing the dark web is through the Tor network. “TOR” was originally called “The Onion Router,” because of the way in which the network is set up. (See diagram)
Tor routes traffic through a series of “nodes” (the various connections), to help obscure the IP addresses of users on the network. While you can browse the “surface web” or “clearnet” with Tor, the network also hosts Tor hidden services, which are referred to as .onion sites. If you’re on an onion site, that’s technically part of the “dark web.”
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Silk Road? The 2013 shutdown of this darknet market was one of the things that popularized the terms “deep web” and “dark web,” and made the general public more aware that this “evil” side of the internet existed.
There are other dark web networks that exist besides Tor as well, such as I2P, Freenet, and GNUnet. Tor just happens to be the most well known (and the most notorious, at the moment). Most of the Youtube videos with the “deep web horror stories” are referring to the Tor network (although that isn’t always the case).
In spite of the Silk Road being shut down, there are many other markets that sell drugs on the dark web, as well as child pornography sites, animal abuse videos, hacked credit cards, hacked PayPal accounts, counterfeit money, and more (use your imagination).
On the other hand, there are dark websites that are more or less harmless – some are just blogs, social networks, or sites related to cryptography and privacy. The thing that I find scariest about the networks is that they’re hard to navigate.
You could be innocently browsing a search engine, click on a link, and suddenly you’re confronted with horrific images on your screen. Or someone (unbeknownst to you) gains access to your computer through some kind of backdoor.
So, no – the dark web is not a joke. Feel free to try accessing it, but it does have its fair share of frightening and disturbing sites.
And don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.